A Surprising New Method for Creating Stem Cells

Fascinating and extensive research in Japan has developed an innovative way to create working stem cells by treating blood cells in an acid bath. This discovery holds much promise and could potentially revolutionize numerous health fields as well as illuminate the advent of personalized medicine.

While normal body cells have specific functions in specific areas such as liver cells, cardiac cells, or muscle cells, stem cells are unique in that they are able to become any other type of cell. Such transformations would allow for successful life-saving regeneration treatments in which patients can fix damaged areas of their bodies using their very own transformed blood cells.

Previous stem cell research has already been applied in allowing for surgical regeneration and healing  parts of the eye, heart and brain. It would truly be a miracle to have access to this revolutionary form of healing for such essential organs such as these.

Dr. Dorothy Lobo, biology professor, said, “In recent years, many labs have been working to try to figure out how to ‘induce’ normal cells to convert them into stem cells (these are induced pluripotent stem cells) – this has been a challenge. Trying to find the right combination of cell types, environmental conditions, and signaling molecules needed has been complex.”

Considering the intricacies of bodily function especially at the cellular level, this discovery comes as a shock even to Dr. Haruko Obokata, a developmental biologist who worked on this research project who said that she was “really surprised that cells would respond to their environment in this way.”

The physical procedure involves the shocking of blood cells to an acidic environment that, in turn, propels their transformation into usable stem cells. Such a treatment would allow long and expensive regenerative surgeries such as those for macular degeneration, an age related illness causing sight loss- to be reduced immensely in both time and cost.

Lobo said, “With this breakthrough, a simple treatment can cause isolated cells to become pluripotent. It has a lot of promise. The two major benefits are that it may allow for easier treatment if a patient’s own cells can be used, preventing the immune rejection that would accompany using stem cells from another source. Also, it removes the ethical dilemma of using embryos to derive stem cells. For these reasons, this is really important work.”

This research has been tested on mice and showed positive results. Continued efforts would allow for the possibility of future generations having access to a form of personalized medicine. This would involve individual patients being able to have treatment specific to each one of their health requirements and it would also eliminate complications often faced by transplant patients whose bodies sometimes reject or have difficulty accepting cells from outside sources.

The question still remains, as of now, how quickly researchers will be able to perfect a form of this method that will be applicable to human patients. Sophomore health studies major Rehvin Hao pointed out, “While discoveries such as these are extremely significant, they are not indicative of assured success. However, mice and humans are not so different in a genetic sense and because this research is based as such, it holds a lot of potential and it will be exciting to hear what happens next.”

Freshman business major Zareen Shueib agreed and said, “Discoveries like these are always fascinating to hear about especially because they could possibly change lives. It’s also amazing what we are capable of doing when we put our minds to it.”

This extensive research has been ongoing for years and hopefully in the coming years, it will only advance in becoming more efficient and accessible to human patients who could greatly benefit from it. In the meantime, we will continue to be awed by the nature of our cells and the truly unexpected ways in which our bodies allow us to heal.

IMAGE TAKEN from bbc.co.uk